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Cycling Plus

Cycling Plus #3:
Cycling in Bali...An Introduction to South East Asia
4/2/99

Bali is everything I expected, yet still it managed to surprise me. The noise, wet heat, energy and friendliness of this tiny island leaves an indelible impression. Beautifully sculpted paddy fields descend in steps and ornate temples fill the villages. Stalls line the roads selling exotic fruits and Balinese delicacies, mysteriously wrapped in bundles of banana leaves. Women balance baskets expertly on their heads. People wave and streams of children call out "Hallo!" as I cycle past.

Cycling is an exciting way of seeing this island. Throw yourself into the frenzy and weave in and out of pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds and minibuses. Being the lowest in the Traffic Web, everyone has the priority to run you off the road, particularly the trucks which lurk at the very top. They have no natural predator! Minibuses stop abruptly on a bend to scoop up passengers or cut across the road dramatically, to drop someone off. Amongst all this chaos, a lone moped piled high with parents and children might be seen winding its way through. It is exactly this unpredictability that makes cycling in Bali so manic and wonderful.

The enormous volcanic mountains that rise from Bali's belly loom tall and foreboding in the distance, mist sitting thickly in their folds. From their peaks, they command a sweeping panorama of the terraced paddy fields and palm tress reaching far into the distance. After one long battle to the crater lake village of Candikuning, I was rewarded with a thirty kilometre downhill, dropping over 1.5 kilometres in altitude. The road was so steep as it folded back on itself, that I felt I could topple forward. Overtaking and being overtaken by mopeds, I looped my way down. The clouds obscured any view, and as I descended, the mist turned to droplets which finally evolved into heavy rain. The Balinese place giant leaves on their heads whilst the worst of the showers pass. But I cycled on, much to their amusement!

Bali is a small island and it is perfect for touring. Though potholed, the roads are generally sealed, fairly smooth and flat around the coast. Possum is handling well. Before leaving Oz, I replaced the Specialized bottom bracket with a Shimano SDX unit. A small buckle in the rear wheel causes the bike to jolt a little when braking, but the Mavic rims are so strong that I hope it will not be a problem. Unlike the smooth Australian highways, mud and dirt on the roads mean regular cleaning of the chainset. This being the wet season, the rain is so heavy at times that the roads are ankle deep in murky brown water.

It is hard to convey the friendliness and warmth of the Balinese people despite the hard life they live. But it is this, and the combination of breathtaking scenery, a rich culture and the particularly manic style of Balinese driving that made this part of the tour an incredible introduction to South East Asia.

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